Justifying My Existence

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A case for the hard working travelers & educators

Finally Realizing I Actually Did Make the Best Life Decisions
By R. Richards, Founder
Mountain Spirit Institute
Andrew McCarthy in his book  “The Longest Way Home – One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down “  writes, “Whenever I would tell people that I was going off on some trip or another, I was met with remarks like, “Oh, tough life,” or, “That’s rough.” Even good friends reacted with outright hostile envy-“Must be nice,” they often said. I used to try to explain and justify my travels.  It was pointless.  Travel, especially by people who rarely do it, is often dismissed as a luxury and an indulgence, not a practical or useful way to spend one’s time.
“People complain, “I wish I could afford to go away.” Even when I did the math and showed that I often spent less money while on the road than staying home, they looked at me with skepticism.  The reasons for not traveling are as varied and complex as the justification for any behavior.  Perhaps people feel this way about travel because of how it’s so often perceived and presented.
“They anticipate and expect escape, from jobs and worries, from routines and families, but mostly, I think, from themselves-the sunny beach with life’s burdens left behind.  For me, travel has rarely been about escape; it’s often not even about a particular destination. The motivation is to go, to meet life, and myself, head-on along the road. There’s something in the act of setting out that renews me, that fills me with a feeling of possibility. On the road, I’m forced to rely on instinct and intuition, on the kindness of strangers, in ways that illuminate who I am, ways that shed light on my motivations, my fears. “

The author as a child on Lake Sunapee

My wife, who had been reading McCarthy’s book this week, showed the above passage to me the other day.  Although I’ve done more than my fair share of “inner work”, in one instant, after hearing her read these words, I realized, I too have been carrying a chip on my shoulder about supposedly not working hard enough, about being a mountain guide and facilitator and director of a non-profit organziation. I’ve tried to defend what I do to  family, friends and the fellow community members in my home town. It has not been the work of my imagination – that some have thought I “was on permanent vacation”.

After graduation from University of Utah, I was on a fast track to represent an Austrian ski boot company in the U.S. by taking a Master Boot-maker program in Austria. However, the combination of two main life events,  meeting Erga and Luciano Cappella, (see my earlier post: Reconnecting with a Mentor)  and one day, simply realizing I was on the wrong side of the window in that little mountain workshop where I was learning how to make ski boots, made me have a paradigm shift. I needed to be “out there in the mountains”, in the Alps. Something in me snapped, and I realized at that moment, I was the closest I would ever get to corporate life, (aside from later conducting Outward Bound Professional corporate team-building workshops). I took a left-hand turn out of the corporate ski business, and never looked back.  With that decision, came a shift in perception, and future decisions  led me to international mountain guiding, a long stint with Outward Bound as a lead instructor and staff trainer, and lastly, founder of Mountain Spirit Institute.

Richards rappelling in his twenties, Newbury, NH

I’ve worked hard, as do most people in the outdoor education field. Anyone who has started a  non-profit organization from the ground up also knows program building and organizational management on a small scale takes a lot of energy, more so than punching a timeclock.  It has sometimes felt like pushing a boulder uphill.  That’s not even taking into account the fun, but hard and endless hours of making sure the participants get what they need on any given program.  I’m committed to what I do, and feel I’m  good at it. It has been my passion since I started teaching in the outdoors at age thirteen, and I feel it’s my life’s purpose.

But from the outside,  it looks like I’ve been galavanting around since my twenties. “When are you going to get a real job” is what if not said, is implied sometimes. Indeed, even my parents occasionally expressed concerns about my not “biting the bullet” , a nice term. Then, later in her life, my mom was just happy knowing that I was doing what filled me up.

With Dr. Theo Paredes, Peru

I didn’t know this article needed to be written until a few nights ago, but now realize it has been long overdue.  I quoted Eckhart Tolle in an earlier post
“Most people are only peripherally aware of the world that surrounds them,  Especially if their surroundings are familiar. The voice in the head absorbs a greater part of their attention. Some people feel more alive when they travel and visit unfamiliar places or foreign countries because at those times sense perception, experiencing takes up more of their consciousness than thinking. They become more present.”

I never looked back – Guiding in Alaska

It’s almost a cliché, but I think this is what other climbers, outdoor leaders and guides are up against when they encounter the world of the conventional. It’s almost like two worlds intersecting. Many articles and books have been written about this. Of course we’re all connected on one level. On another, there very different lives happening in my small hometown.  Said Oliver Wendall Holmes  “A mind that is stretched to a new idea never returns to its original dimensions.”

Fortunately my mind has been stretched. Now it is up to me, with this new perspective, (thanks to McCarthy), to compassionately nod to those who don’t understand my lifestyle and career choice, and to move on.
For more information on R. Richards’ career choices you can read his short bio at Mountain Spirit Institute’s About Page.
Re-edited on 11/3/12 16:46EST (My motto, post first, edit later)

Some responses from my personal Facebook Page, also see the comment posted below by Jay for additional insight.

  • Peter Canaday Hard to explain unless you come across others of the same mind, and then, no explanation is necessary….
  • Wendy Gilker Randy, I understand living a life different from the norm. Generally, people do question it. How many times have people asked me – “When do you get a life Wendy”. As Joseph Campbell said ” the Journey begins with a” call to adventure in which the He…See More
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  • Wendy Gilker Helen Keller – “Many people admire what I did with my life because I seemed to be at such a disadvantage. But, they’re mistaken. If anything , I was greatly blessed. The danger in my “zone unknown” was great, but so was the treasure since eternal pr…See More
  • Randy Richards Good comments Wendy, I like the quotes.
  • Irene Powell Thank you for sharing….I will be allowing this words to percolate inside and see where they take me in my inner voyage of discovery.
  • Kevin Sleeper Randy, I have to say that it is/was probably jealousy which produces those comments. Be comfortable that it is our loss and your gain. Being outside was always a passion of mine, mostly expressed through scouting. Check out my posting of the Sailors take warning sky last Sunday at 6:15 or so over Lake Sunapee. I am sure you will recognize the place?
  • Randy Richards Thanks Jay Leavitt for the comment and poem (posted on our blog). You bring up some good points I failed to include. Also, I’ve done some re-edits of the blog post – My motto: Post first, edit later.
  • Randy Richards Hey Kevin Thanks for that..Yeah I remember that about you.
  • Dale Morrow I agree with Kevin, Randy. Feel a little sympathy for us who look at you, and feel the need to needle you, because we covet your life. But don’t take it all to heart. They mean no harm. People have to learn to accept the choices they’ve made.
  • Kevin Sleeper Randy, I learned a long time ago if U R going to swim upstream U R going to need a thick skin.

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2 Responses to “Justifying My Existence”

  1. jay leavitt Says:

    Our journey is short – but is is long, complex and when we make it – complicated…
    Like you Randy I have lived and experienced both sides of the “glass”. I remind myself everyday that all I have control over is myself (and even that can be overwhelming).
    Many of my dear friends do not travel far – but believe me they travel. They see and experience their surroundings with such a presence that I strive to achieve.
    Here is a local Vt poem that is seen and felt thru a “local” traveller.
    The Fall Almost Nobody Sees
    By David Budbill

    Everybody’s gone away.
    They think there’s nothing left to see.
    The garish colors’ flashy sho is over.
    Now those of us who stay
    hunker down in sweet silence,
    blessed emptiness among

    red-orange shadblow
    purple-red blueberry
    copper-brown beech
    gold tamarack, a few
    remaining pale yellow
    popple leaves,
    sedge and fern in shades
    from beige to darkening red
    to brown to almost black,
    and all this in front of, below
    among blue-green spruce and fir
    and white pine,

    all of it under gray skies
    chill air, all of us waiting
    in the somber dank and rain,
    waiting here in quiet, chill
    November,
    waiting for the snow.
    _________________________________________________

    Love your blog Randy – keep on writing.

    • mtnspirit Says:

      Jay, I love it. Of course the inner journey is rich, and my perceptions or better, my projections are the biggest player. I particularly love that latter mind-twister – Projections. I don’t think I conveyed that in the post.
      Back to inner journeys – I tell prospective participants they don’t even have leave the country, or even their town to have an intense journey. There’s a saying that an experiential program can be held under a kitchen table, and after having run enough programs, I think that statement hits the mark, (Vipassna is a good example). Also, as the poem leads us, the wonder of the four seasons here in New England forces us, especially in late fall, to go with mother nature, and go within. I’ve missed this aspect in other parts of the world or, having missed the fall/winter altogether by traveling to the southern hemisphere. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and poem. Great addition.
      Best to you and Jay,
      Randy

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